Words: James Frostick
Melbourne’s Pest is an amalgamation of some of the city’s finest proponents of hardcore punk. The group released an EP at the end of 2018 infused with fiery protest punk – potent, immediate and aggressive. Ahead of the band’s tour of New South Wales this month, we caught up with the group to talk evolution, the efficacy of protest songs in 2019 and how protest factors into the band’s overall ethos.
In the minds of older generations, the protest song is intrinsically linked to the age of free love and anti-Vietnam War sentiments, but in reality the art form has endured and evolved over the past five decades. It’s not as if the world has become a utopia – injustice is rife and the list of things to rally against gets longer and longer, therefore protest is as necessary as ever. As far and protest music goes, punk and its assorted sub-genres provide suitable home for music critical of the status quo. Long a refuge for thinkers and creatives on the societal fringe, protest songs in punk have been a vital tool for those fighting for peace of mind and acceptance in the face of systemic prejudice and inequality.
Melbourne’s Pest is a group featuring musicians from the city’s hardcore and punk scene, plucked from bands such as Enzyme, Havitijjat, R.I.P. Fucker, Terremoto and Masses, to name a few. While Pest isn’t a dedicated protest band, its brand of D-beat, streetpunk and UK 82-influenced style of music makes a visceral platform for thoughtful expression. The band’s latest EP Decay (out now through Lost in Fog Records) is saturated in social commentary, coiled tightly around English, Scandinavian and Polish-inspired aggression.
The band dropped the EP at the tail-end of 2018, but are gearing up for a whirlwind series of shows throughout January. I had the pleasure of shooting through some questions to vocalist Ry and bassist Elle to get to the crux of Pest’s intentions and conceptual approach.
For the uninitiated, tell me about the members of the band and how you all came together to form Pest!
Elle: Each of us almost have a different version of events as to how the band was formed. From what I remember, Nat and I came up with the idea of forming a band after a long, drunken conversation at a gig in the old D.I.Y. space ‘Hotshots’ one night. Nat mentioned that Ry was looking to form a new project as a vocalist – and James as a drummer – as these areas were both new territory and a new challenge for both of them. We decided that they were both going to be part of our band, and went in search for them both to let them know! We didn’t have a particular musical direction in mind at the time when we started jamming, apart from that we knew it would be some form of ‘punk.’ Over around 12 months of experimenting with our influences, sound and jamming in a dank, leaky shed, we had built the bare bones of what was to become ‘Pest’, and started gigging!
Ry: From what I remember, Nat and Elle were starting a band and James wanted to try learning drums. Something something, James told me I should join and I did. We had our first jam at Hot Shots in Footscray in 2016/2017?
Each member of the band has performed across a multitude of other acts – what would you say is the creative common ground that unites you?
Ry: We just like similar music and we’re all mates, basically. James and I both wanted to try doing something we hadn’t done previously – him learning drums and me writing lyrics and doing vocals.
What does performing and writing in Pest offer you as musicians and creative individuals that is perhaps new, unfamiliar or challenging?
Elle: I’ve definitely delved more deeply and become more emotionally invested into the song writing process within Pest compared to previous projects and bands. I really spend the time to work on musical ideas, elaborate on them, or ditch them completely if they aren’t working out. I’ve also started exploring different tones and effects on my instrument, which has opened up a whole new world when it comes to the songwriting process, and makes it very exciting to think of the possibilities in the future!Ry: This is the first band I have done vocals or written lyrics for. When writing anything musically (eg. for Enzyme or Havittajat), I try different progressions and write down what I think works and sounds good and bring that to the next practice and we, as a band, try to make it into a song. Something like that. That’s easy and a lot less restrictive because wether what I’ve written musically is good or bad is pretty much subjective. Writing lyrics is completely different – it’s a lot easier to be anxious and self critical about it.
Pest’s brand of punk blends sounds from English, Polish and Scandinavian scenes – can you tell me how each of those disparate influences manifested themselves in your work or how they may have helped shape your output?
Elle: I feel as though historically, almost all music is a culmination of different influences, and how each individual interprets these influences. It feels to me as though within each of our own personal musical styles, we have taken parts of what we all love, and thrown our own interpretations of that into the melting-pot that is ‘Pest.’ It is so easy to access and appreciate punk music from all over the world now, especially music that may have had a limited reach in the past, with thanks to the unlimited capacity of the Internet. It’s hard not to pick up inspiration from different cultures and communities, and subconsciously adapt that into your playing style over time.
Ry: When we first started, we all had different ideas of what we wanted to play. Basically all of those styles that you just mentioned. I thought we were starting more of a UK82 band but it’s not how our songs sounded when we first started jamming. I’m happy with our sound now anyway. When I started writing, I was listening to stuff like Perdition (NYC), Anti-Cimex, Shitlickers, which of course aren’t UK82 bands. It’s still pretty much what I keep in mind when I’m writing anything for Pest now.
Your demo was a blistering collecting of tracks – what is the biggest jump musically from that release to this new one?
Elle: Our demo definitely encompasses the journey of us exploring our sound and finding our direction as a band. The lyrical content was a mish-mash of lyrics written by Ry, and some I had written even before the conception of Pest. The musical content was also a combination of jam sessions, ideas and riffs we had written previously to Pest, and later, a few musical concepts written specifically with ‘Pest’ in mind. We never confined ourselves to a particular direction in which we wanted our music and lyrical content to follow when writing new material after our demo release, but since then we have definitely refined our sound, who we are, and grown within our roles within the band. Personally, I became very interested more-so in the musical aesthetic of our music, and spent more time exploring rhythmic and melodic devices to inject into our songwriting.
Ry: Hearing my own voice on the demo and hating it – haha! No, I just think it’s just a lot more together. I feel like we have a solid sound at this stage.
Pest’s demo is laced with protest and sentiments that rail against injustice. Is social commentary and the art of protest intrinsic to Pest’s ethos and output, or is your creative process subject to other forms of inspiration too?
Ry: Honestly, I wouldn’t know what to write about if I couldn’t use social commentary. All I know in songwriting is whinging about the state and it’s effect on society.
What sorts of issues are feeding into the thematic direction, lyrical content and social critiques of the new release?
Ry: Topics on this record, or at least with the songs I wrote, range from the housing crisis in Melbourne and Sydney throughout the past few years due to the rise in real estate, property investment and gentrification, to mental health issues in effect of living under modern capitalism, to nuclear warfare, to the end of the world as we know it as a result of treating our planet and each other like shit.
What are your thoughts on the efficacy of protest songs in enacting change in Australia’s contemporary musical landscape?
Elle: Pest is definitely the first politically-oriented band that I had become involved with, which coincided with my growing interest in educating myself on the political state and injustices of the world. I feel as though Music is a perfect vessel to which we can introduce ideas and issues to others through lyrical content, and I found that personally, musicians and activists within the punk scene are what really began to first open my eyes to the myriad of issues plaguing our world, and encouraged me to explore this further.
I believe through protest music, musicians can help raise awareness regarding certain issues to their audience, and hopefully spark up a dialogue to which can inspire further solidarity and proactive action in combatting these issues over time.
Ry: Throughout history, music as always had an influence on political movements, political collapse and social change. “Music is not a threat but action that music inspires can be a threat” – Chumbawumba
Listen to Pest’s EP Decay (released through Lost in Fog) here:
Pest will be embarking on a tour of New South Wales in early 2019 to launch the release! Click here for details! The dates are as follows:
Thursday 17th Jan – Newcastle
Friday 18th Jan – Nag Nag Nag Festival
Saturday 19th Jan – Sydney
Sunday 20th Jan – Wollongong